Birds and Bees
What happens when art and science collide to make us reconsider how we see?
Welcome to Birds and Bees – a space for navigation, exploration and experimentation.
Sight, navigation, illusion, robotics …and bees? Nature has a lot to teach us, if we look closely.
Professor Mandyam (Srini) Srinivasan (University of Queensland) has spent two decades doing just that. With every buzz and flap of the wings, birds and bees have helped Srini develop his studies. Uncovering the shortcuts they use to understand and navigate the world, his research reveals how these animals fly through narrow gaps, regulate their speed, estimate the distance they flown, and make a smooth landing. These insights have led to new, biological inspired approaches to designing machine vision and other robotics – from programming drones, surveillance systems, to planetary exploration.
Srini’s collaborator, is Dr Sam Leach. Sam first met Srini when he was commissioned to paint his portrait for the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. Sam is an award-winning contemporary Australian artist and adjunct at the University of South Australia. Intrigued by the historical and cultural connection between art and science, he’s particularly interested in the way that science helps art to understand the relationship between humans and animals. This installation includes a new work created by Sam especially for MOD.
Creating Birds and Bees
MOD. brought Sam and Srini together to work with us to design Birds and Bees. Set in our Futures Gallery, it shines a light on the differences between human and animal perception, spatial navigation, and illusion.
A large work by Sam Leach, Flow Landscape, fills one wall of the gallery. Sam chose magenta as an accent colour because of its special qualities – we don’t technically see it. What our eyes perceive as purple is your brain trying to make sense of red light and blue light overlapping. Your brilliant brain solves this by ‘inventing’ the colour magenta. If you look closely at Sam’s work, you might find other things hidden within it.
In the centre of the gallery is a tunnel inspired by the one Srini uses in his experiments. Lined with horizontal and vertical lines, Srini uses the tunnel in his lab to test how animals use visual cues to regulate their speed and navigate narrow gaps. They do this way more successfully than us humans. Some of the rules they use include always veering right to avoid collisions and to keep objects on both sides of them moving at the same speed. Srini is using what these animals have taught him to design better guidance systems for autonomous aircraft and to improve airline safety.
If you listen carefully, you just might hear Srini and Sam as they welcome you in.
Interview with Sam Leach, Arts Review, 24 May 2017
Professor Srini’s Laboratory: Neuroscience of Vision and Aerial Robotics, University of Queensland
Podcast: Professor Srini Srinivasan in conversation with Richard Fidler, Conversations, ABC, 10 November 2016.
- Professor Mandyam (Srini) Srinivasan Researcher
- Dr Sam Leach Artist
- Exhibition Studios Design and build
- Phil Van Hout Audio Production
- MOD. Film production (footage supplied by University of Queensland)